Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Advent Photo Journey-- November 29-- December 25

This year I took on the "Advent Photo Journey" that Alive Now was doing.  I saw their post on Facebook and it struck me as something I'd like to do, would enjoy doing.  I enjoy praying with a camera, but don't always get the time nor make the time to do so.  Contemplative photography is one of my spiritual disciplines.

Therefore, during the Advent season, I challenged myself to pray and think about the words as I went through each day.  Sometimes things came up while I was driving around one of the three communities to which I am appointed.  Sometimes it would be other things.   At other times it became a matter of choosing which picture to share for the advent photo journey. 

But the journey accomplished the goal for me.  I walked through Advent with intentionality and focus.  Each day I prayed and thought about something particular.  In the midst of what can be a crazy and hectic season, I was able to stay a tad bit slower and somewhat calmer. 

All of the pictures are mine.  Some were taken during this Advent season.  Some were taken at other times.  The reflection during this journey was what it was all about for me.

Here is the Advent photo journey:

not my photograph; taken from Alive Now facebook page

If you want to see other photos from this Advent, go to Facebook or Instagram and check the hashtags in the above photo.  Go to Alive Now's Facebook page too. 

Here was my journey through Advent:

Nov 29--Hope

Sunset at St. Mary's Sewanee a few weeks back on the eve of a silent retreat. This depicts hope to me. 

Nov 30-- Prepare

Advent picture journey. Prepare. Lake Junaluska.

 Dec  1-- Wait

Advent picture journey. Wait. Waiting on the ketchup (special balsamic vinegar ketchup).

Dec  2-- Journey

Advent picture journey. Flying back home from FUMSDRL board meeting this summer. Journey is what life is all about for me. I look forward to this Advent journey this season. What challenges will it bring? What changes? What hope does it offer?

Dec  3-- Open

Today's word is open. This is one of the three churches (Simpson UMC in Rossville, GA) where I am currently blessed to serve. May our hearts and doors be open to our communities.

Dec  4-- Comfort

It has taken me a while to get to "comfort" today because much of what came to mind was first world comforts... comfort food, warm drinks, warm blankets in a bed... and for many, comfort may be desired yet not found in those things. Today my comfort came through coloring. Comfort can take many forms. May we find ways to comfort one another during the journey of life.

 Dec  5-- Wisdom

Today, wisdom means knowing it is time to sell motorcycle #2. It needs someone who wants to tinker; someone who can ride it daily. I need a bike that is fully reliable. If anyone knows of anyone looking for a '81 Yamaha 750 Maxim, have them contact Stan at RT Cycle in Fort Oglethorpe. They are selling it for me.

Dec  6-- Peace

Drawn Nov. 13 by Charlie. Peace for Paris. Peace for the entire world. May we be peace. May we make peace.

Dec  7--Listen 

I have been listening today in many ways.... in conversations and in the silence. However, the greatest joy was to listen to tonight's middle and high school bands play their holiday concert.


Dec  8-- Free

Dec  9-- Justice

Thank you Beth Richardson for reminding me that I had this photo. Your post jogged my memory this morning. 

Dec 10-- Awake

It has been an interesting day of God moving in situations. I just now noticed this elf on my lamp in my office. Love it! I am awake now. Trying to be awake to what is going on around me.

Dec 11-- Mystery

Fog represents mystery to me. There are things beyond the fog which I cannot yet see. I can only see directly in front of me. Mystery calls me into the unknown. It challenges me to trust and live by faith. I am glad for mystery for it means that I don't need to know all things. I can let them go, let them be, and trust the One who is the Great Mystery to work things out in the right way and time.

Dec 12-- Grace

God's grace is available every moment of every day to everybody. I often forget how available grace is, even though I have experienced it. Grace has been my lifeline. May we extend grace to others.

Dec 13-- Joy

I sat down to drink my coffee, looked up and saw this. Joy filled my soul. I went outside to take several pictures of the gorgeous sunrise. Preparing to worship.

Dec 14-- Ponder

I saw this view yesterday on my way back to Simpson UMC for the Cantata. Clouds and the sky often cause me to reflect and ponder on the beauty of the creation and the Creator.

 Dec 15-- Sign

There are all types of signs that get our attention--physical, visual, internal, subtle... This sign tends to get the attention of most people and we know that fresh, hot donuts await inside. Knowing what the signs mean is important to us understanding their significance. Paying attention to certain signs is an important part of life. Signs guide and direct. Internal signs told me last night to go to bed early and rest.

 Dec 16-- Praise

I give praise for 64 degree weather on December 16th as I hear a lawnmower. I give praise for flowers that feed the insects-- an unexpected gift in the season. I give praise for a day to read and work on a sermon. I give praise for this pause during Advent.

Dec 17-- Release

This brass ensemble played for a local retirement home and released joy for the residents. And some tears. It was a great time of celebration.

Dec 18--Promise

The promise of new life is what I see on a chilly December morning. 

Dec 19-- Faith

I recently met a woman of faith in one of the communities in which I work who has had some physical and financial struggles. In the midst of it all, she has held strongly to her faith. Yesterday I picked up food on her behalf and delivered it to her. She shared that God is moving fast in providing for her and blessing her. Faith in the darkness when things are difficult. Faith in the light when things are joyous and bright. Life sustaining faith.

Dec 20--Love

This heart rock is a symbol of love. I saw it on the ground at Camp Dickenson in Fries, VA as I was watching deer in the field below. The heart rock caught me by surprise. Sometimes love does that. Unexpected love. May we be unexpected love to and for those who desperately need to experience it.

Dec 21--Wonder

I saw this on the wall as I visited the orthotics place again for insert 2 for my foot which really has had a stress fracture all along. I often wonder about things in my life. In this tapestry, I see double meaning in Jesus sitting next to the water, enjoying creation. An interesting reflection as it causes me to consider that this 'awesome wonder' also experienced some wonder of his own.

Dec 22-- Community

Feeding the Ridgeland High football players prior to their game. A community of people in the church pulled this together to do for the community. Community is key in our journey. Helping one another. Being with one another. Supporting one another.

 Dec 23--Gift 

This gift is unique in that it represents the spiritual gifts. It can only be worth something as we learn what our gifts are and then use them.

 Dec 24--Birth 

This photo shows a newborn baby a few days old. As I contemplate the birth and life of Christ, I am grateful. I am also grateful for the birth and life of this one. May this Christmas birth new life in us all--bringing peace, joy, hope, and love. 

Dec 25--Light

"The Light Has Come!" This is one of the Holston GaP Parish churches -Flintstone UMC.

Thanks for sharing my Advent Photo Journey with me.  

Blessings on your journey, 



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Christ is Born... Now What?" First Sunday after Christmas

The first Sunday after Christmas, the lectionary passage that caught my attention was Colossians 3:12-17.  Here is the sermon that grew into being for this past Sunday.  Remember that what is written here isn't 100% accurate what was shared in either or both churches because some things get taken out and some things get added.

As an example, in the second church this past Sunday, Simpson UMC, I felt led to add that I had just visited the day before in the hospital with a very special lady.  We had a special visit and a good time of prayer.  I also shared that she shared that she had a vision that God was going to do great things in the church(es) through Pastor Tommy and my leadership and the people.  That was humbling.  And powerful.  May it be so. 

Here is the sermon from Sunday:

"Christ is Born... Now What?"
December 27, 2015 (1st Sunday after Christmas Day)
Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC, Simpson UMC
Colossians 3:12-17  (NRSV)
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

THANKS BE TO GOD.                                                                          

Today is the 1st Sunday after Christmas Day.  It is the 3rd day of Christmas.  The twelve days of Christmas last through Epiphany, which is January 6th.  For many people, it is enough to make it through the holiday time and "get through" Christmas.  Even many of the stores already have the "next season" on their shelves-- Valentine's Day.  It's as if we go through four weeks of waiting during the Advent Season and then it's over. But it's really not.  The celebration of Christmas truly continues through Epiphany.  More importantly than the celebration, however, is the challenge to each of us with how we are going to engage with the Christ child.  Are we going to keep living the same as we have always lived or will there be something new and fresh in our lives as we have come into the presence of the Christ child once again?

Christ is what?

In today's passage from Colossians, Paul speaks to the believers reminding them of who they are, whose they are, and how they are to live.  We can appropriate these verses for ourselves today.
Verse 12-14:  "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."

In these first three verses of this passage, Paul clearly states who, whose, and how to live it: CHOSEN, HOLY, BELOVED..... CLOTHE YOURSELVES WITH-- compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, love.  Bear with one another.  Forgive each other. 
This is living with intentionality and focus.  By doing these things, we are setting ourselves apart.  The "clothing" is an outward perspective.  We are called to put on these things.  In order to put on these things, we must take off other things.  Things that no longer fit us or are not purposeful for Christ's kingdom.  This too requires intention as well as prayer and discernment.  What are the things that need to come off us so that we have room to put on something different? 

We are reminded here of our Baptismal vows in that we put off our old selves and take on the new.  In the Thanksgiving over the Water, (p. 36) it says: "Pour out your Holy Spirit, to bless this gift of water and those who receive it, to wash away their sin and clothe them in righteousness throughout their lives, that dying and being raised with Christ, they may share in his final victory."  When we take our baptismal vows, we vow that we faithfully participate by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness (38).

One tradition is that people would be given a white robe after baptism to symbolize their new identity having being raised with Christ.  There are other ways to express this symbolic time and to help people reflect on their new identity in Christ.
That is what we are doing today.  Reflection on our new identity in Christ.  In truth, that is something we can do daily.  If not daily, it's something to reflect upon periodically to assure that we are growing and changing in our relationship with Christ.  If we are not changing, we might want to reassess our relationship.

Today's passage goes from the outside to the inside in verses 15: "And let the peace of Chrsit rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful."  This inward attitude is crucial to what happens on the outside.  Without the inside transformation, the outside action won't take place for the kingdom.  It's an ebb and flow of an inward and outward journey.  Just as Jesus spent time teaching, healing, feeding others, etc., he also took time to rest, pray, be in community with the disciples and to be in silence and solitude.  As we live into the rhythm of following Christ's example, our relationship with Christ and others can grow deeper and wider and more meaningful.

Verses 16 and 17 remind us how to live out our faith: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

This is a great summation of how we are to live, isn't it?  But it's not easy to live into this calling.  I can say that I'm going to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love and that I'm going to live like Jesus would have me live.  But will I really?  What about when the phone call comes?

Two weeks before Christmas we got a phone call on the answering machine.  It wasn't the first person that has called.  But there was something different in her voice.  I called the other person back too and helped them as I felt led to help as well, with information and some numbers.  But when I called this person back, well... she answered the phone and I asked how she was.  She said not so good and she was heading to Parkridge East ER.  She was having severe pains in her side.  She didn't mention the reason she called earlier (rent help).  I told her I'd check in with her.  I went to Parkridge that evening and saw her in the ER room.  I prayed with her and talked  with her.  On Monday I went by her apartment complex which is just down the road from FOUMC.  In meeting her landlord, I learned that she was as I thought she was.  I told him I planned to go by her place of employment to see if they might help.  You see, when people work paycheck to paycheck get sick and have to miss work for a few day or a few weeks, they get behind on their rent.  She had been in the hospital earlier in the fall for some health reasons too.  The spiral can start to spin pretty fast.  What God revealed to me was that she, too, is one of God's kingdom children and needed some love and encouragement.  The landlord connected me with the Christ Chapel in Ringgold and we got her some food.  Through another church, her rent got caught up. 

God challenged me with the fact that the harvest is plenty.  At our Charge Conference, Brenda Carroll, our D.S., noted that the high school is right across the street and how that is a huge mission field.  I still have in my possession the Sonic Gift Cards to hand out when the time is right and I have had two people step up to say that they will go with me.  I look forward to sharing the love of Christ in a small way with those kids.

Pastor Tommy and I will be meeting in January with the leaders and all interested folks at each church individually for a 'dreaming and visioning' session.  We will get together to pray, to look at some questions (that have already been sent out to leaders to get out to people), and to share where we see God at work in our communities.  We are tying down the dates and times for each church, but you'll soon hear about that.  Meanwhile, be praying.  Pray about what God would have the church as a community be and do in and for the community.  Consider doing a prayer walk either physically or mentally in an area of the community.  While doing the prayer walk, ask God to show you what breaks the heart of God in that area.  As we gather together to share and pray, we will begin to see a plan for how God will transform us in the upcoming year.

In closing, I want to share some words from Mother Teresa (Words to Love By):

Dear Jesus,

Help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us
and be so in us
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us
but only Jesus.
Stay with us
and then we shall begin to shine as you shine,
so to shine as to be light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you.
None of it will be ours.
It will be you shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best
by shining on those around us.... Amen.

May it be so.

Blessings on your journey, 


Monday, December 28, 2015

The Light Has Come-- Christmas Eve Service-- my first as a pastor... reflections and the message

photo by Chuck Crabtree
This was my first Christmas Eve as a pastor.  Though I wouldn't be spending it with family, I had prepared myself for that last year.  I knew that my Christmas Eve traditions would change once I stepped into the role of being a pastor.  It's not a bad thing, it's just different.  For us, it meant taking our teenager to my parent's house on Christmas Eve, visiting for a little while, and then heading up to begin the Christmas Eve service journey.  We would have Christmas dinner on Christmas day with family.

I was really looking forward to the evening with my co pastor, Tommy Messer.  We were going to be at all three services in the Holston GaP Parish together, serving communion and taking turns preaching.  However, as the day neared, Tommy got the "crud" that was going around... bronchitis.

Therefore, I had the unique experience of preaching my first Christmas Eve in three different churches.  I am very grateful for the laity that stepped up to the plate when grabbed at the last minute to help with the various readings and communion.

I missed the opportunity to share this holy night with my brother in Christ and co pastor.  At each church, we started the service in prayer for him.  In spite of not being able to be the paired pastors of the parish on Christmas Eve, it did turn out to be a very special evening.

Each church service was special and unique in its own way.  There were a few visitors at each service from the community and some family members who attended from out of town.  There was a sweet spirit in each of the services and I couldn't have asked for a better first experience of a Christmas Eve as a pastor.

Part of the great experience was that my husband was able to be with me the entire evening since it was his day off.  He was able to be with me and attend all three services.  Until he retires, that won't always be the case.

Those are my reflections from the evening.  Services were 5pm, 7pm, and 9pm.  I tried to take a picture at one of the churches and got a blurred view of candles.  I did a better job at the last church.  Someone else took some decent pictures and I'll post his here too.

As it always goes with sermons, what you will see below isn't necessarily 100% accurate of what was shared that evening.  It is a basic format and was added to or taken away from, depending on how things went and where I was.

May the light shine brightly this year!

Peace on your journey!



"The Light Has Come!"
December 24, 2015 (Christmas Eve)
Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)
Simpson UMC, Fort Oglethorpe UMC, Flintstone UMC

Isaiah 9:2-7 (NRSV)
The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Luke 2:1-20  (NRSV)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
THANKS BE TO GOD.                                                                          
It is finally here.  Christmas Eve.  The day we have been moving toward through the Advent Season.  Slowly but surely we are made our way through the Advent season toward the celebration of the birth of Christ.  Our Advent Wreath became brighter each week as we added to the light.  Tonight we light the Christ Candle.  It is Christmas Eve.  Christmas time is finally here.

Rueben Job: "Christmas holds the key to unlocking the deepest mysteries of our lives: Who are we, where did we come from, is there meaning to our lives, and where are we going? [...] The birth of Jesus allows an experience of God with us and within us. [...] The great mystery of God unfolds in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Now we know who we are-- God's beloved children; to whom we belong--our faithful redeemer; and where we are going in our journey of life--to a place prepared for us.  Thus the Christmas story is such great news." (47, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God)

The light has come!
In tonight's passages, we read first from Isaiah.  In that passage we read about the light in the midst of darkness and the hopeful proclamation and rejoicing.

I don't know what darkness you experience in your life, but know tonight, that the light has come!  We have gathered tonight to focus on the newborn infant, recognizing that we enter once again into the mystery of the Incarnation, God with Us, Emmanuel.  We respond with wonder and amazement.  It is a time for us to allow the light and love of Christ into our hearts once again, to fill us to overflowing, so that the love and light of Christ that fills us spills into those around us.

The second passage you heard is what is best known as the Christmas story, from Peanuts to Christmas plays.  Mary and Joseph have travelled far.  They are weary.  It has been a rough week for them.  Can you relate to them?  Verse 7 tells us that it was time for Mary to deliver her first born, but they were not staying in an inn, so she laid him in a manger. The angel brings the glorious news to the shepherds: " 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." and they make their way to see the child. Mary took everything in that the shepherds told her and treasured it in her heart.

As we take these two passages together this evening, from Isaiah and Luke,  let's recognize that the light has come and the newborn child, God with Us, Emmanuel, has come. Let us treasure these things in our hearts and allow God to illuminate everything.

At the end of this Advent season, we are reminded again that the light has come and has overcome the darkness.  One other reminder of this is from the Gospel of John 1:1-5 in which we read about Jesus' entry into the world, the Word made flesh: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." 

In closing, I want to share with you the lyrics to a song that has been on my mind this week, "No More Night" by David Phelps.  David Phelps sang with the Gaither Vocal Band, but has toured on his own too. 

Though in a way this song is more appropriate for when Christ is resurrected, it can also be appropriate tonight as we recognize Christ's place in our lives, God with us, Emmanuel.  We have watched the light grow brighter through the Advent season as we approached the celebration of the Savior's birth.  There is now light.... no more night nor darkness.

NO MORE NIGHT by David Phelps

The timeless theme, Earth and Heaven will pass away
It's not a dream, God will make all things new that day
Gone is the curse from which I stumbled and fell
Evil is banished to eternal hell
No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, "I AM"
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb
See all around, now the nations bow down to sing
The only sound is the praises to Christ, our King
Slowly the names from the book are read
I know the King, so there's no need to dread
No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, "I AM"
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb
See over there, there's a mansion
Oh, that's prepared just for me
Where I will live with my Savior eternally
No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, "I AM"
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb
All praises to the great, "I AM"
We're gonna live in the light of the risen Lamb
God has come here to be with you, with me.  God chose to be with us. The light has come!
May we live in the light of the newborn and risen Lamb!